Management Track Podcast
Best practices are always evolving, and you need to evolve with them
As he put himself through college doing facility maintenance and construction work, Christopher Walinski discovered his passion...
"Upon graduating, I briefly tried work that was more in line with my major," Walinski says. "I realized I enjoyed doing construction work more, so I ended up going back and working as a construction project manager for a number of years.
"Once I started working in facilities management, I realized it was the right fit for me and I have been in the field ever since."
Walinski now works as the building operations manager for Munich Reinsurance America, Inc., Princeton, NJ. Throughout his 27-year career has never stopped learning or improving.
"If you want to be better in your position and field, you need to actively work on your professional growth and you need to actively evolve with the industry," he says.
Building Operations Manager
Munich Reinsurance America, Inc.
Where and when did you start your career?
I actually put myself through college doing Construction and Facilities work. Upon graduating, I briefly tried work that was more in line with my major, but realized I enjoyed doing Construction work more, so I ended up going back and working as a Construction Project Manager for a number of years. I traveled around the country in that role until, during a slowdown in the construction market in the late 1990’s, I transitioned into more of a Facilities Management role as a contractor working at a large pharmaceutical company. Once I started working in Facilities Management, I realized it was the right fit for me and I have been in the field ever since.
What credentials, certificates and licensing have you earned throughout your career and what has been most important?
I wish I had spent more time actually completing some of the credentials I took classes in, but at the time I was always more interested in the information than in the certification. I took numerous classes/courses that tied directly to projects or program changes I was involved in. I took classes offered by the US Green Building Council while my team was working towards moving our building to LEED certified (we have both Gold and Platinum buildings on the campus I manage now). I took classes offered by the National Fire Protection Association to ensure that the facilities I managed were as close to Best Practice as I could make them in the areas of Fire And Life Safety. I also took numerous courses offered by IFMA, BOMA, and AEE; at vendor events or product training; and at industry conferences. Some were better than others, but even the ones that weren’t as informative helped reinforce some of the information I had learned previously. I thought the Building Operator Certification offered by the Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships Inc. (NEEP) provided a very good overall program. The USGBC classes were excellent for both understanding the depth and breadth of the sustainability process and for helping infuse new energy and ideas into projects I was working on. I used a lot of the information / formulas reinforced by the Certified Energy Auditor course offered by Association of Energy Engineers (AEE) in showing the ROI/validation of projects when I was submitting budget memos to get funding for work. And I have been able to use these various education opportunities as a compliment to the expertise and (sometime more formal) education of my team members (in building management, architecture and engineering, and construction management). It has all been helpful at different times, and I continue to be a strong believer in the value of consistently pursuing education in whatever avenue is being offered.
What are the most challenging aspects of your job as a facility manager?
I think it is the things you can’t control. You have different people with different comfort levels and different habits and different tolerances. You may have challenges in what money your team is allotted (either in day-to-day expenses or capital projects). You may have last second scheduling or changes because someone at the building had a last second change (or miscalculated a timeframe, or just didn’t plan well enough). And while I think that the element of change and the need to adapt is something you find in most professions, I would say that it is one of the biggest challenges I face, and ability to deal with that – and the willingness to be flexible - is one of the necessities of working in this field.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
I would say when I can recognize that I have improved something (either in myself, my department, or in my areas of responsibility), especially if it was a long standing practice and if I was able to figure out the improvement or innovation from educating myself on a topic or product or process. That is the most rewarding part of the job to me. The “improvement” could be the way we handle a certain task, or the implementing or adopting a new technology or process, or the career development of one of the people on my team. It doesn’t matter. There is just something very personally rewarding to me in actively helping create or bring about an improvement.
What is your favorite project that you have worked on in your career?
I have had the pleasure of working on some great projects. My team installed a solar canopy over most of our campus parking spaces and tied it to a mile long groundwater recharge system. We had a really tricky project migrating our largest building on campus from an Indirect energy (i.e. electric perimeter) heating system to a direct energy (i.e. natural gas boiler) heating system. We have upgraded HVAC plants, fully gutted and renovated buildings to LEED Platinum status, turned conventional office space into open office space (and achieved that with an overwhelmingly positive response from the occupants). These projects took a lot of research, planning, and teamwork to execute. And those are the kind of projects I enjoy the most; the ones that not only require you to immerse yourself in, but inspire you to immerse yourself in. That being said, I think my favorite project is always literally and figuratively the “next” project. I love learning about new technologies. Finding a new process or product or program, whatever the “new idea” is and being part of the development and creation of a concept from that idea, and then seeing that concept come to fruition as a project. That is such an exciting and rewarding journey for me. I think nothing keeps your experience at work keep feeling new more that continuing to move forward. My team’s newest project is evolving the campus from efficiency-centric to a combined target of efficiency and improving environmental conditions. We are in the process of doubling our fresh air, and cutting CO2 and VOC's in our workplace (as referenced in The Well Building Standard and in the recent COGfx Study) . Everything about the process (the involvement with the people work in the area, the researching of new products to help us afford to make this improvement without disaffecting energy costs or usage, and talking with the participants working in the areas we are creating this new environment) is exciting to me. I think the concept of Improved Environmental Conditions will create a major change to how buildings are run going forward.
What is the best piece of advice you have received throughout your career?
"It is what it is". If you want to advance in the FM field, you have to be willing to come in at every hour, on weekends and holidays as you are needed. If you want to be better in your position and field, you need to actively work on your professional growth and you need to actively evolve with the industry. If your role is supporting a group that is ultra-demanding, you need to figure a way that you can intelligently exceed those demands. If you want to improve your department and you aren’t sure how, you need to find the mentor, colleague, partner, teacher, or environment that can help you. You don’t improve without effort.. You don’t improve by just complaining. Recognize what you are dealing with and then deal with it. I worked with someone early on who, when I expressed any frustration, would just laugh and say "it is what it is" and then ask what I was going to do about the issue other than complain. It helped me to stop worrying about things and whether I could or couldn’t change them, and instead focus on the next step or steps I needed to take.
What do you wish you had known about you career before you entered it?
I wish I had realized earlier that this was the field for me. I think earlier in my career I would have been more motivated to pursue the credentials and not just the knowledge, which would have giving me more avenues to follow and a better base in the higher education areas of the field. Also, I started in the field right around the same time that the LEED program was starting and I was drawn to it pretty early, but I wish I had really jumped into the concept with both feet quicker. Being in the field during the evolution of that program, and adapting many of the ideas relatively soon after they came out, I found the improvements in efficiency and Environmental policy to be very personally rewarding to me, and often the time spent on projects and changes tied to those improvements were some of more interesting parts of my day. As my career has progressed, I have definitely found myself being more of an early advocate and adopter of these concepts, and that has been such an enjoyable part of my work that I wish I had embraced the mindset more fully when the movement was just starting out.
What advice do you have for somebody who is just getting stared or looking to move up in the field?
The first piece of advice that comes to mind is "Actively Evolve". The technology, the processes, the true “best practices” are always evolving, and you need to evolve with them. Get out there and attend classes, and walk show floors, and go to conventions so you can discover, become educated, and understand the advances that are constantly improving what we do. Now, in addition to the general concepts and foundations and pillars that make up Facilities Maintenance, Sustainability, and Efficiency, the FM world is expanding in new directions in areas like Wellness, Big Data, the Internet Of Things, and the Smart Grid. The sooner you become someone who is informed on the new technologies and directions, the sooner you may potentially be able to find a path, company, specialty or team that will allow you to accelerate your development. Even if you are just starting out and in a company that is not forward facing in any way, still make the effort to learn, and grow and develop yourself and your knowledge. The knowledge and contacts and perspective you will gain potentially will be a huge help as you plot out the next steps in your position and career.